• Published 14th Jun 2018
  • 10,131 Views, 657 Comments

The Face of Magic - Carapace

Tensions between two races have forced the Seekers' hoof. From the depths of their secret library fortress hidden within the Rolling Thunder Mountains, they send to represent their interests as diplomat and Bearer of Magic Princess Twilight Sparkle.

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1. Shadow of Deals Past

The scent of rainfall had always served well to calm her troubled mind.

Perhaps most ponies might find it odd that she, Harbinger of the Dawn and Princess of the Sun, should find herself most at peace not when the skies were clear and blue and the land was bathed in her day’s warmth. Instead, Celestia favored either twilight—that precious time she and Luna could spend a few moments together while day ceded the land to night, and they joined one another for dinner—or moments like these. Moments where the pegasi graced their fair city with a good storm.

The scent of falling rain and ozone with each flash of lightning, the rumble of distant thunder, and that constant drumming on the rooftops and grounds below the balcony overlooking Canterlot’s eastern quarter never failed to put her ancient, worried mind at ease. It offered some small comfort as she considered her next actions and let it wander back to that fateful night.

Back to a night, just like this one, so many centuries ago. Back to those days following the Fall of Magic, the Shame of House Shimmer, and the deal. The deal which started it all.

Back to that night four centuries ago when she called in a favor to summon an old friend from her library, hidden deep in the Rolling Thunder Mountains to the south, nestled in the halls of Halla Eolais, and guarded jealously by her kin.

The night she made a deal with the Queen of the Seekers—they who thirsted for love and desire for knowledge above all else.

The night Magic found its home in their hooves.

The figure before her was quite fetching for a mare in her late twenties. Certainly one worthy of her stature and mind, her soft purple coat and pale pink mane, tied into a tight braid which wreathed her head like a crown, and enchanting amethyst eyes would have almost driven Celestia to inquire about dinner plans.

“I see you’re wearing a new face today, Queen Sireadh Firinn,” she greeted with a slight inclining of her head.

The mare smiled, her eyes shining with mischief, and perhaps just a touch of approval. “I like this one,” Sireadh mused as she gave her tail a merry swish. “It’s closer to my natural color, and it never fails to entice those adorable students and academics of yours to give their attention and engage when I approach for discussion.”

Celestia smiled. “Of course. And I wager Eolas approves wholeheartedly.”

“Oh, you’ve no idea,” she purred. “But I doubt you called for me so you might hear about my love life. May I?” The disguised Queen gestured to the plush purple cushion to Celestia’s right.

“Please.” With a wave of her gilded hoof, Celestia summoned her attendant. “Would you care for a drink? Anything you’d like, of course. My thanks for making the journey.”

“And mine for the offer. Brandy would be lovely, actually.” Sireadh smiled and nodded in greeting to the newcomer before the young stallion bowed and trotted off. Then, she took her seat, letting out a low, inequine purr as she got comfortable. “One day, I think I’ll convince you to part with the name of your cushion maker. You and Lulu always find the best, no matter how we try to imitate it.”

Celetia’s alabaster ears flicked, but she kept her expression neutral. “I might consider parting with such …” she trailed off, pretending to consider the notion, “valuable information. For a price.”

Her old friend leaned in, her eyes wide and unblinking. “You have my attention.”

“I have a bit of an … issue with one of our noble families.” She cringed inwardly even as she spoke. Why did it have to come to this?” “There has been a rather drastic change in their demeanor and attitude toward their fellow ponies, and it’s begun to cause problems we can ignore no longer.”

Sireadh tilted her head and fixed her with a puzzled look. “I mean no offense, old friend, but I fail to see how this is an issue to bring to me. Unless you’ve undergone a drastic change of heart toward teaching your subjects lessons and now favor other methods.” Idly, she began drumming her hooves upon the cushion. “Of course, I don’t mind lending a few hooves to do the job, and will guarantee your anonymity. But I do find this a rather odd request.”

Wincing, Celestia waved her off. “No, no, that won’t be necessary,” she replied hastily. “This is serious, yes, but I’d rather avoid that path. As for teaching, that would be rather difficult. This isn’t something so simple like refusing to treat others with respect or anything of the like that a word and lesson would solve. This has been going on for—” How long had it been, exactly? “—The better part of a generation.”

“Important then,” At Celetia’s nod, she hummed a low note. “Enough so that you would call upon not just the aid of the Seekers, but me, personally.” Sireadh chuckled and shook her head. “This is a rather troubling revelation.”

“I fear if things are are permitted to progress as they have, they will grow more troubling still.” Celestia drew close, lowering her voice so that it was little more than a murmur, “My sister’s dreams have been haunted of late.”

Sireadh stiffened, all trace of amusement gone. “You didn’t mention this in your letter!” she hissed.

The Princess of the Sun bowed her head. “My apologies. This is a rather sensitive issue—both personally and as head of state.”

“I gathered as much just a moment ago, but still.” Sighing, Sireadh leaned back in her cushion and closed her eyes, rubbing at her temples. After a moment, she opened them and spoke again, “Is Luna well, or were they like last time?”

Another wince. “I’ve had to brew a Draught of Dreamless Rest each night for a week so she might have some peace. I haven’t seen anything like this since Discord made his presence known.” A memory flashed before her eyes, drawing a shiver and rustle of wings. “If this continues, I fear for the state of her Dream Realm, and Harmony itself.”

Her old friend hummed in agreement. “This is quite serious then.” She sat in silence for a moment, again drumming her hooves upon the cushion. Her eyes, however, flitted away to look out over the city to take in the soothing sights of Canterlot in the midst of a storm. Eventually, she sighed and shook her head. “You’ve roused my curiosity. What is it that troubles her so?”

There it was. The moment she so dreaded.

Celestia turned her gaze away as well to look out over her precious city. The glowing lights in each window were always so lovely during these rainy nights.

Why had it come to this?

She closed her eyes and whispered softly, “Magic’s bearer has fallen from grace. The Element has lost its light, shrouded by her jealousy …” Say it. “And avarice.”

The words hung over them like a shining blade, the constant drum of rainfall the only sound between them.

Then, Celestia rose to step around the cushions and stand before Sireadh. “You know what I’m about to ask of you.”

“Unfortunately,” Sireadh replied evenly, she closed her eyes and exhaled through her nose. “I’m afraid your cushion maker’s name isn’t a fair price.”

“No. I figured not.” A rueful smile played upon her lips. “But I had to try.”

“Of course. I’d have likely done the same.”

“You’d have done worse, trickster Queen.”

Sireadh’s lips tugged into a sharklike grin. “Touché.” As quickly as it came, though, it vanished. “You realize what you’re asking of me?” she pressed. “You understand the power you’re putting in my hooves?”

Celesetia gave a solemn nod. “In multiple meanings, yes. I would have your word that you’ll come when called, like the others, and not hold this over our heads in that event. In exchange for the power you’ll hold.”

“An odd way to look at it, don’t you think?”

“How so?”

“Come now, don’t play games.” Sireadh raised a hoof. “I did not ask for this power. Now, I won’t say the offer isn’t … enticing.” A long, forked tongue ran over her lips. “Nor that it doesn’t present an opportunity to study an artifact we’ve longed for many years. But I’m more than aware of the burden, not to mention the danger it might bring to my kin should word get out.”

Her tail flicking, Celestia forced herself not to reveal any tells. “Of course.” She nodded once. “You will have my every assurance that none will ever know you hold M—”

The disguised Queen held up a hoof to silence her. “Don’t speak it aloud. Ever,” she said, her tone eerily reminiscent of Celestia’s long-lost teacher. “I expect you to follow the course of utmost silence in exchange for me stealing from House Shimmer alone.”

The sting of her words did draw a wince this time. “You have it.” She bowed her head. “Neither Luna nor I will ever speak of what your line will wield, and what you hold in Halla Eolais, I swear it. Should it ever come that it is revealed, it will be by you and yours, none other.” She paused, allowing Sireadh a moment to breathe a sigh of relief, then said, “What terms would you ask of me in exchange for acting on our behalf?”

Sireadh thought for a moment, her hooves again beat out a rhythm on the cushion. “I have a lot of kin in this city,” she mused. “I have kin in many of your cities. They love it here. They love to teach yours and learn from them in kind.”

“I know.” A tiny smile played upon her lips. “They’re wonderful students, and loving teachers.”

“Yes. Yes, they are.” Sireadh’s amethyst eyes hardened. “I’ll not have them harmed by the ponies they sat and learned with should they be outed, or should our cousins’ actions turn our love into our folly.” Her jaw set, she fixed Celestia with a piercing gaze. “I want your word they will be protected should that ever come to pass. I want your word no law shall be written to allow them hunted and pulled from their homes.”

Lightning flashed. For an instant, Celestia saw her disguise falter, and a pair of gleaming fangs poked down from her upper lip.

Then, in a swift flash of arcane green fire, the disguise was in place once more.

Anger. Fear. Worry. All for the safety of her kin. How could she be faulted?

Celestia knew it all too well herself. It was her own fear for her ponies’ safety which drove her to call upon her old friend, for there were none better to wield it than she. Who else wielded such talent and shared it with those around her? For a small price, yes.

Protecting one another was hardly an unfair deal.

Her horn shimmered brilliant gold, Celestia removed her gilded shoe and offered Sireadh her naked hoof. “You have my word,” she said softly. “I’ll see to it personally. And should that day ever come, I’ll see to it they are returned to Halla Eolais unharmed.”

Sireadh nodded and clasped her hoof tight. “Then we have a deal. My line will wield it on your behalf, and you will protect my kin living within your borders on mine.”

Four hundred years.

That deal had stayed sound for four hundred years without incident, without any whisper of a problem. Sireadh had kept true to her word, and her kin found safety, security, and ponies who would love and share their desire for knowledge in those bastions of high education.

Celestia closed her eyes tight. How she hated this so.

But what other choice was there? That wretch had ruined so much—her niece’s wedding, her ponies’ sense of security, and worse.

Far worse.

Their sense of trust in friend, family, and neighbor alike had been shattered. Already there were rumblings in the noble houses, whispers in the streets as ponies’ eyes shifted this way and that, wondering who was real and who was but a mask.

Suspicion. Fear. Distrust.

They wanted to know who was pony and who wasn’t.

They wanted a full hunt. Once again, the delicate Harmony in her land was threatened.

Once again, she would have to call upon the bearers, all of them. Houses Apple, Belle, Pie, Shy, and Rainbow would answer readily, coming without question as they ever did. And so too, would another. But this time, she didn’t call upon that mysterious pony who came from their home in a land unknown in Equestria’s darkest hour, and vanished as soon as the storm had passed.

She sighed and looked at the bound scroll resting on her cushion, waiting to be sent. It was time. She’d delayed far too long as it was, and possibly made things worse as a result.

Celestia took a deep breath and cast the spell. Green fire devoured the scroll in seconds and sent a tendril of shimmering smoke slithering off into the night.

The Bearer of Magic was needed, but this time not as some mystery savior.

This time, she was needed to emerge from the halls of Halla Eolais as diplomat of the Seekers on the eleventh hour before chaos between races reigned. She was needed to put suspicion to rest, and ease Luna’s haunted dreams.

“And now,” Celestia whispered, quoting her long-lost teacher, “the die is cast.”